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Westport’s Horrific Trolley Crash: 100 Years Ago Yesterday

Exactly 100 years ago yesterday — on July 22, 1914 — Westport suffered one of its worst tragedies ever.

But until “06880″ reader Mary Palmieri Gai pointed it out, I’d never heard of it.

On that day — a Wednesday — a horrendous, high-speed head-on collision between a 3-car trolley and a freight trolley killed 4 people, and seriously injured 21.

The front page of the Meriden Weekly Republican.

The front page of the Meriden Weekly Republican.

It took place at the intersection of State Street (now Post Road West) and King Street (now Riverside Avenue). The Meriden Weekly Republican called it “a deep curve on a down grade.”

Many of the trolley’s 279 passengers were children, returning to East Bridgeport from a church picnic at Norwalk’s Roton Point. The dead were between 11 and 21 years old.

The Republican said the accident occurred when the motorman of the passenger trolley “put on all speed while going downhill in an endeavor to reach a siding before the arrival of the trolley freight, which he knew was coming.”

According to the New York Times, both cars were “telescoped for four or five feet.” The 4 dead were all in the front seat. Westport medical examiner Dr. Frank Powers called it “a miracle” that not more were killed.

The Republican added, “the air was filled with splinters and dust….a panic ensued after the crash. The shrieks and groans of the injured could be heard for blocks.”

In the early 20th century, trolleys were an important part of Westport transportation. This is the terminal at Compo Beach.

In the early 20th century, trolleys were an important part of Westport transportation. This is the terminal at Compo Beach.

Injured passengers helped others. Mrs. Robert Wakelee — who suffered broken legs and broken thighs — threw 2 children from the floor to the ground outside. Moments later, debris from the roof landed where the youngsters had lain.

Howard Taylor, who lived nearby, lifted a dozen people from the wreckage.

Every doctor in the area was summoned. Ambulances and private cars sped to Norwalk Hospital.

Mary Palmieri Gai adds one last piece of news: Among the injured — suffering from a broken nose and shock — was Lillian Abbott of Providence, Rhode Island.

Just 2 years earlier, she had survived the sinking of Titanic.

Bridgewater Stays Put — For Now

So Bridgewater Associates is not moving to Stamford after all.

Westport’s biggest employer — a hedge fund that manages $120 billion in global investments — has decided that despite $115 million in tax incentives offered by Gov. Malloy,  it will not move its 1,225 employees to a controversial site in Stamford.

(The controversy, in case you have not been paying attention to corporate welfare news, is 3-fold: the site in the South End would displace a large boatyard; it might have violated the state’s Coastal Management Act, and Gov. Malloy is the former [cough cough] mayor of Stamford.)

Bridgewater’s employees are spread among 2 sites here. Some work at Nyala Farms off I-95 Exit 18, but the majority are in the gorgeous Glendinning site on Weston Road. (That’s why you see upscale buses traveling up and down Roseville Road every morning and afternoon.)

The Bridgewater building on Weston Road. Most Westporters have no idea it's here.

The Bridgewater building on Weston Road. Most Westporters have no idea it’s here.

That Glendinning office is truly a gem. Hidden from view (except on the Ford Road side), it’s serene and verdant. I can’t imagine a nicer hedge fund environment anywhere.

What will Bridgewater do now? Perhaps renovate the property. (Keeping in mind — we hope — the restrictions agreed upon when it was built more than 40 years ago, as a rare office complex in a residential neighborhood. Glendinning was a major marketer, when Westport was the marketing capital of the world.)

Perhaps add a “meditation area.” (Founder Ray Dalio does things other hedge fund owners don’t.)

Perhaps Bridgewater will keep looking for a new site.

Whatever they do, let’s hope they don’t ask for a $115 million subsidy from the state.

Or even $15.

That’s the kind of thing that gives hedge funds a bad name.



Remembering Bob Farris

Bob Farris died last month. He passed away in the arms of his beloved wife Linda.

The names may be unfamiliar to Westporters. But when you see their photos, you’ll recognize them instantly:

Linda and Bob Farris, at one of their favorite spots.

Linda and Bob Farris, at one of their favorite spots.

And you’ll know too that “loving partners” doesn’t begin to describe the couple.

They were fixtures at Compo Beach. They walked slowly, Linda supporting her much bigger husband.

Many people did not know their names. But they were a friendly couple, and nearly everyone on the beach stopped and chatted.

Linda did most of the talking. It was difficult for Bob to speak. But he smiled, and engaged you. They were part of what makes Westport — particularly the beach — such a wonderful community.

In his last 3 years, Bob met his challenges with elegance and dignity. That’s no surprise to those who know his back story.

He was a West Point graduate.

But he was no normal cadet. He graduated 1st in his class.

He was a football star. Bob captained the 1954 team. He was a lineman who went both ways. He was blinded in one eye the entire 2nd half of the Navy game, yet never came out.

Bob Farris (left) and an Army teammate, with President Eisenhower at the White House.

Bob Farris (left) and an Army teammate, with President Eisenhower at the White House.

General Douglas MacArthur lauded his play and academic standing. Coach Red Blaik called Bob a leader who instilled the “Will to Win.” On 3 successive Saturdays he was voted national Lineman of the Week.

Bob — an Alabama native — and Linda met at Hebrew University, where Bob was engaged in long-range planning. He loved Jerusalem and Israel. It will be his final resting place.

But Westport was dear to his heart too.

“Bob’s ability to enjoy life was enhanced by the encouragement and support of so many people at the beach,” Linda says.

“Some are friends whose names we know. Others are strangers with whom we shared great conversations. Their smiles and good energy gave Bob the confidence to walk just one more time around the Point.

“Words cannot describe the gratitude we felt then, and which I continue to feel now,” Linda adds. “Compo Beach is where Bob and I spent such happy days. What better place to celebrate his life?”

What better place indeed. All who knew Bob — by sight and smile, if not by name — are invited to a celebration at 10 a.m. this Sunday (June 29, near the west end).

Bob’s West Point classmate Bob Sorley — a noted intelligence analyst and military historian — will speak. An honor guard will honor Bob. Bagpipes will play.

And we’ll all smile — sadly, wistfully, Westport-ily — as we look around and remember Bob. and the beach he and Linda loved.

Greens Farms Elementary School teacher and noted musician Suzanne Sherman Propp wrote and recorded “Holding Hands” in 2009, for a wedding of friends. The beautiful song was inspired by Bob and Linda — and includes a photo of them.


Remembering Ruth Bedford

An era has ended.

Ruth Bedford — the last surviving grandchild of Edward T. Bedford, who was a director of Standard Oil, the founder of the Westport Family Y and namesake of Bedford Middle School — died Saturday. She was 99.

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this Westport Y event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

Years ago, Ruth Bedford hosted this Westport Y event. She is shown with Lester Giegerich (left) and Dr. Malcolm Beinfield. (Photo courtesy of Westport Y)

Ruth died 2 days before the 90th annual meeting of the Y — the last to be held in the original Bedford Building. When the Y moves to Mahackeno in September, the downtown site will be replaced by a retail/residential complex called, fittingly, Bedford Square.

Ruth was also a longtime supporter of the Y. She was a trustee for many years, and at her death continued as a trustee emeriti. In her younger days, she was also an avid sailor and pilot.

According to the Y, Ruth volunteered with American Red Cross in World War II, and was stationed in England during bombings. 

Like her sister Lucie Briggs Cunningham Warren, Ruth was a major supporter of the Norwalk Hospital, and many other local charitable causes. 

Her sister died 2 years ago, at 104. Ruth’s niece, Lucie Cunningham McKinney, died last month, age 80.

When Ruth’s sister Lucie died in in 2012, “06880″ posted these recollections from Charlie Taylor. In honor of the remarkable Bedford family, we publish it again:

I worked as a landscape gardener and laborer for Ruth Bedford and her father Fred (Edward T. Bedford’s son) on their Beachside Avenue estate from 1958 — when I was a Staples sophomore — until I graduated from college in 1965. What a great place to work!

Edward T. Bedford -- Ruth's grandfather -- built an enormous estate on Beachside Avenue.

Edward T. Bedford — Ruth’s grandfather — built an enormous estate on Beachside Avenue.

My dad had encouraged me to go to Nyala Farms to get a job at the dairy, as a 15-year-old. (NOTE:  The 52-acre farm, now bordered by Green’s Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector, had been owned since 1910 by the Bedford family. Fred Bedford named it after the beautiful “nyala” — antelope — he’d seen on safari in Africa.)

Louis Gordon — chief gardener and estate caretaker — intercepted me. He told me to report on Saturday “down on the Shore Road. I’ll put you to work on the Bedford Place.” I stayed for the next 6 summers.

It took up 17 acres, mostly on the Sound. I spent all day cutting the front and back yard of the house, with a 6-foot Locke mower. I started at $1.10 an hour, for an 8-hour day.

There was a greenhouse where we grew cut flowers for the main house, and a truck farm across the road. I was in charge of storing a year’s supply of coal to fire the furnace for the greenhouse. A truck came at the beginning of June, and dumped a small mountain of coal. It took me 6 days — 8 hours a day — to move the coal into the bin.

The main house included a big game trophy room, and models of hulls of 12-meter racing boats.

The Bedford estate (front view).

The Bedford estate (front view).

The dock went probably 120 feet into the Sound. A little house at the end received guests in bad weather. Stairs went down into the water, to ease passengers onto the dock and walkway that led to the expansive backyard and rear entrance to the main house.

Mr. Bedford kept a long, black Cadillac limo for trips to his homes in New York and Palm Beach.

The Bedford estate gardens.

The Bedford estate gardens.

Numerous car commercials were shot on the estate, especially the semicircular pea gravel driveway. Every Friday I raked all the tire tracks from the driveway, in preparation for the weekend. It was so long, the job took 4 hours. I also weeded the driveway.

One day I was clearing brush. Mr. Gordon was talking to the man who owned the property next door. It was J.C. Penney himself. We were never introduced.

My favorite times were Friday evenings, at quitting time. Mr. Gordon would ask if I had a date that night. If I did, he’d whip up a corsage of carnations or other flowers for my date. If I was staying home, he’d make up an arrangement for my mom.

When I was in college, Mr. Gordon occasionally let me take dates down to the dock, to swim. He told me to be very discreet, however. And I was.

Charlie Taylor, today.

Charlie Taylor, today.

Mr. Gordon sent me on some dangerous assignments, like 50 feet into huge old elm trees to prune, or onto chimneys at the main house to cut back ivy. But I gained confidence during those summers. I learned to work and give all-out effort. He accepted nothing less than the best. There were no slackers on the Bedford payroll.

He made me very proud of myself. When he chewed me out, I deserved it. More to the point, he explained why he was chewing me out, and the importance of doing a good job.

I owe Westport, and the Bedfords, a lot. Miss Ruth, if you read this, thanks for the week I caught poison ivy so bad that when I showed up for work with a face and fingers so swollen, you sent me home — but you still paid me my $80 for the week I missed. I learned a lot from you too, Miss Ruth. Thank you.

(Charlie Taylor is now a senior development officer at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. He’s also a long-time musician. To keep busy while mowing the Bedford lawn, he made up song lyrics. He later studied songwriting at UCLA, and worked with musicians like Gram Parsons, Billy Preston and others.)

The Saddest Estate Sale Ever

On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about the sign for this estate sale:

Estate sale

Any Westporter knows it refers to an event in the Gault Park section of town, off Cross Highway.

But if you’re not from here, it takes on a whole different meaning.

(Hat tip to Bruce Borner, for first posting this sign on Facebook.)

Max’s Art Supplies: A Friend Remembers

Monday’s story about the end of Max’s Art Supplies’ 59-year run made many readers think about what the store meant to them.

Alert reader John Kennedy sent along these thoughts:

When I first returned home, I was going to be an illustrator. This is what I had been in the Air Force and it was what I wanted to do as a civilian. Max’s was the store I went to.

Westport had always been a center of excellence and I was determined to be a success. I thought that to be part of the scene, I must “make the scene.”

So I went in and picked up a shading stomp, some charcoal pencils, a couple of pads and a kneaded eraser. The bill was about $20, but I didn’t have enough money. I started to put some things back, when Max stepped up. He said, “an artist needs his tools. I’ll give you credit.” Max told Shirley to open an account for me. I had no credit. It was 1970. I had just been discharged. With a smile, Max said, “I trust you.”

I walked out with everything. In a month I paid him back.

One of John Kennedy's first paintings.

One of John Kennedy’s first paintings.

From that I went on to work for the New York Times company through Golf Digest and Tennis Magazines. Then more magazines. I illustrated a bit, designed books, ran an internet agency. All the time, Max’s was my go-to place. As a director, I could send others to Max’s, and I did.

Then the world changed. With the computer, publishers no longer cared about quality. They took design and excellence, and turned it over to lesser staff to “just get it out.” Illustration was done in the box. All the skill, talent, education and technique disappeared. Today, one by one, the artists are leaving us. They are replaced by wannabe idiots who know nothing, and do little but talk.

Today I will visit Shirley, Nina and Jay. I will bring in coffee and we will once again relive, for one bright shining moment, the years of real and true art.

I am the last of my breed. When Max’s leaves, I will hide and let the world only wonder what true art is. Nobody cares. We are a community, we are the artists, Shirley’s, Nina’s and Jay’s guys. I am the last director.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.


WWPT-FM Rocks On

Forty years ago, Staples was the 1st public high school in Connecticut with an FM radio station.

It’s still one of the only ones.

As you drive around today, you should check out WWPT — 90.3 FM. (Better yet: click here, then click the Westport Public Schools logo.) They’re celebrating 4 decades of music, sports, news and talk with a special program.

WWPT's 40th-anniversary poster pays homage to another great musical event: Woodstock.

WWPT’s 40th-anniversary poster honors another great musical event: Woodstock.

These days, it’s easy to put down everything teen-related. We hear it all the time: They only care about themselves. They don’t know how to work hard. Their music sucks.

Listening to today’s 40th-anniversary celebration may surprise you. They’re paying homage to 4 decades of former staff members who laid the foundation for today. They’re producing a mammoth day-long event. And they’re playing great music (including live concerts at noon and 3 p.m.).

Staples Class of 1971 alum Fred Cantor was listening to WWPT's show this morning. He headed to the studio, and shared his memories of bands like the Remains with faculty advisor Mike Zito.

Staples Class of 1971 alum Fred Cantor was listening to WWPT’s show this morning. He headed to the studio, and shared his memories of bands like the Remains with faculty advisor Mike Zito.

WWPT-FM has launched the careers of dozens of Staples grads. Many others just had a great time there.

The tradition continues, 40 years on.

Tune in. You won’t be singing, “What’s the matter with kids today…”

The WWPT (90.3 FM) studios include space for live concerts. Bands play at 12 and 3 p.m. today.

The WWPT (90.3 FM) studios include space for live concerts. Bands play at 12 and 3 p.m. today.

Just Another Saugatuck Saturday

Saugatuck showed off its springtime best today.

The Saugatuck Rowing Club was the prettiest place on the river.

Saugatuck Rowing Club

Viva Zapata prepared for Cinco de Mayo.

Viva cinco de Mayo

Craft Butchery and the CM Gourmet Market boomed. Downunder was flooded with kayakers and paddle-boarders.

And Saugatuck Sweets celebrated its grand opening. There were balloons, temporary tattoos (with all proceeds going to Al’s Angels), and blessings from a priest and rabbi. Both clergymen expressed hope that the richness of the ice cream will add to the richness of the neighborhood.

Saugatuck Sweets owners Al DiGuido (left) and Pete Romano, with Al's wife Chris, welcome a large crowd to Saugatuck's newest cool spot.

Saugatuck Sweets owners Al DiGuido (left) and Pete Romano, with Al’s wife Chris, welcome a large crowd to Saugatuck’s newest cool spot.

Lili The Heron Flies Free

Lili Bonora was a graceful, generous woman.

A native of Monte Carlo, an accomplished cloisonné artist and concert pianist, a gifted cook and floral arranager, she was beloved in Westport. For 28 years Lili’s Fine Food and Catering served coffee, croissants and conversation to railroad passengers on the eastbound side of the station.

Lili died in October of 2011. She left behind countless friends and admirers.

Today, Lili lives again — in the form of a yellow tufted heron.

Heron 2

Lili the heron.

Over a year ago, the graceful bird had fallen out of her nest. She was attacked by crows.

The hatchling was found, and brought to Weston’s Wildlife in Crisis. There she was  lovingly nursed back to health — supported by generous donations that had been made in Lili Bonora’s honor.

On April 16 — around what would have been Lili’s 75th birthday — Lili the heron was set free in the salt marshes of Burying Hill Beach.

Lili stood in shock. She had never been outside. All day — and on into the night – she took stock of her new surroundings. Volunteers from Wildlife in Crisis monitored her, as she made her transition.

Lili, adapting to her new surroundings. (Photos/Sarah Gross)

Lili, adapting to her new surroundings. (Photos/Sarah Gross)

The next morning, Lili was safe in a tree. By Easter Sunday she was thriving.

The good folks at Wildlife in Crisis say the hardest part is not saving animals. It’s giving them back their freedom — letting them go.

Thanks to them, Westport now has 2 wonderful Lilis to remember.

(Hat tip to Sarah Gross, for the beautiful photos and wonderful story.)


On Thursday (And Sunday) The Rabbi Played Jazz

Growing up in Framingham, Massachusetts, Greg Wall had “a smattering of cultural Judaism.” After his bar mitzvah in a reform synagogue, he says, “I was out of there. It did nothing for me.”

Music, though, did a lot for Greg. Moving from Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues, Hendrix, Tull and Sly to Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, the teenager found his passion.

He played keyboard and sax. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Greg moved to New York. He would seek his fortune as a jazz musician.

Greg Wall, back in the day.

Greg Wall, back in the day.

Through “a bizarre turn of events,” he landed gigs in Hasidic Brooklyn. “My mother always said Orthodox Jews were crazy,” Greg says. “She was right. I loved it.”

He played Hasidic weddings “to support my jazz habit.” Gradually, he grew more devout. Eventually, he married an observant Jew.

Still, he says, “I thought we’d just celebrate the Sabbath.” Though Greg no longer played on Friday and Saturday nights, he began recording and touring. He played Carnegie Hall, The Knitting Factory and Joe’s Pub in New York, plus venues from Montreal to Europe.

On trains and planes, he read about Judaism. The more he studied, the more he was drawn in.

Wanting their kids to have the religious education they’d missed, Greg and his wife enrolled them in a Jewish day school. Not wanting to be a hypocrite, he enrolled himself.

“The next thing I knew, I was a rabbi,” Greg says. (I’m sure he left out a few details.)

The 2 faces of Greg Wall.

The 2 faces of Greg Wall.

In 2009 — 3 years after ordination — a friend called. “Have I got a shul for you!” he said, more or less. Greg had no intention of being a congregational rabbi, but when he heard it was in the East Village, he was hooked.

Over the next 3 years, Greg added arts to the synagogue’s schedule. Music 4 nights a week was preceded by classes in theology and other Jewish subjects.

Greg enjoyed his new job. His family didn’t. They couldn’t afford to live nearby, so his wife and kids were stuck in New Jersey.

Rabbi Greg Wall, doing double duty at his East Village synagogue.

Rabbi Greg Wall, doing double duty at his East Village synagogue.

Last year, a congregant who’d grown up here told Greg that Beit Chaverim needed a rabbi. Greg had heard Westport was “an artsy place. The NFL was not the main topic of discussion” (apparently it was in his Jersey town).

Greg was hired. A few members of the search committee knew his recordings. He’d already proven he could be an excellent rabbi as well as a performing musician, so that was not an issue.

He began his new gig at the Orthodox synagogue on Post Road West last August. He was delighted to find how “nice and genuine” Westporters are — congregants and others — and what active, varied lives they lead.

Beit Chaverim

Greg sees many parallels between Judaism and jazz. Both come from an “inherited tradition.” Both demand plenty of practice.

And, Greg says, both Judaism and jazz “require you to think out of the box. Jazz needs originality and creativity. Judaism tells us to constantly reinvent ourselves. ‘Sing a new song to God,’ we’re told.”

Greg toured Europe last summer. Last week, he played Town Hall in New York. But he loves playing close to home.

You can’t get much closer than the Spotted Horse.

Spotted Horse logoHe brought his sax to the Church Lane (how ironic) hot spot in February. Jazz brunch sold out. He quickly became a favorite.

Now he’s booked 3 more performances: the next 2 Sundays (April 6 and 13, 12:30-3:30 p.m.) and Thursday, April 10 (8-11 p.m.).

Being a jazz musician/rabbi in a swinging restaurant is out of the ordinary. So are some of the comments Greg hears.

“People sometimes confide in me between sets,” he says. “That’s fine. I’m always on duty.”

He’s returned to the Spotted Horse a few times — not to play sax, but to lead Talmud classes.

“That’s a lot of fun,” he says. “The food is good too!”

And kosher. Though only when Rabbi Greg Wall performs there.

Rabbi Greg Wall

Rabbi Greg Wall